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Cord blood cells – All you need to know

Cord blood cells – All you need to know

It was only in the later half of the twentieth century that the value of umbilical cord blood cells was discovered. Up until then, the umbilical cord was simply regarded as a tube through which the mother would pass essential nutrients, oxygen, and life-support to the developing fetus

Umbilical cord blood cells or simply cord blood cells have immeasurable value, the greatest being they have the potential to save life

So, what are cord blood cells? What are the potential uses of cord blood cells?

Let’s find out!

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. It can be collected right after birth through a simple process that does not harm mother and baby.

Cord blood contains haematopoietic blood stem cells (HSCs). Generally found in the bone marrow, HSCs can differentiate cells found in the immune system, and any type of blood cell – white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. The primary function of HSCs is to maintain the production of blood for as long as we live. Additionally, HSCs are also used in bone marrow transplants. Studies have shown HSCs from cord blood lead to fewer immune rejections (like graft-versus-host disease), unlike HSCs procured from bone marrow.

Application of cord blood cells

Over the last few decades, cord blood cells have been used in the treatment  of several life-threatening and lifestyle diseases, that include:

  • Leukaemia (blood cancer)
  • Thalassaemia
  • Sickle cell anaemia
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Bone marrow failure
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Immune disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Genetic disorders

Cord blood collection

Since cord blood is the residual blood in the umbilical cord and placenta, an obstetrician-gynaecologist or qualified hospital staff is the one who collects it. 

After the umbilical cord (UC) is clamped or cut, blood is drawn from the UC with a needle that has a sterile bag attached to its end. This is a ten minute procedure and does not harm the mother and baby in any way.

Today, many gynaecologists and neonatologists recommend delayed cord clamping at birth so that the residual cord blood is transferred to the newborn. While this is extremely beneficial for the newborn, delayed cord clamping causes the blood in the cord to clot, thereby losing its integrity.

Expecting parents should discuss delayed cord clamping and/or cord blood collection with their gynaecologist during birth-planning. It is important to keep in mind that cord blood collection can only happen if – 

  • The birth is without trauma
  • Mother does not have HIV-Aids, HBV haemophilia, cancer, or any other life-threatening/immune disorders
  • Mother does not have Hep B or Hep C, nor has she had contact with anybody with Hep B or Hep C in the preceding 12 months
  • Mother has not had any tattoos or body piercings done in the preceding 12 months
  • Mother has not contracted any STDs in the preceding 12 months
  • Mother does not have any contagious viral infection at the time of cord blood collection
  • Mother has not travelled to certain high risk countries in the last 5 years
  • Either parent does not have a family history of blood cancer, immune deficiency, or any other genetic condition that can be passed on to the newborn
  • Newborn’s sibling(s) does not have blood cancer, immune deficiency or any other genetic condition

There are several other conditions when it comes to cord blood banking. Please speak to your gynaecologist to have a better understanding of them. 

Cord blood banking or cord blood storage

Research indicates cord blood may be stored or frozen for up to ten years without losing its efficacy. Typically, cord blood is stored in cord blood banks. This process is known as cord blood banking.

In India, the Central Drug Standards Controlling Organization (CDSCO) provides licences and monitors Umbilical Cord Blood banks (UCB).

Cord blood donation

The presence of HSCs in cord blood gives the latter incredible value.

But the question you will ask us now is – Why should I donate my baby’s cord blood? Shouldn’t I protect my child first?

Our answer – Yes. You must protect your child first. However, research indicates that it is highly unlikely that your little one will ever need their cord blood. Immunity is a life-long evolving process. And since there isn’t enough information on how long cord blood can be stored without damaging its integrity, the chances are your child will not have any need for it in their lifetime. 

This is why clinicians and medical researchers urge new parents and families to seriously consider donating their child’s cord blood.

If you think about it, the birth of a child also has the potential to save many lives. 

Cord blood transplantation

In 1988, the world’s first successful cord blood stem cell transplant was performed in Paris. The patient was a little boy who suffered from a genetic and potentially life-threatening type of anaemia. The transplantation of cord blood cells follows the same process as allogeneic stem cell transplantation, where the stem cells are procured from donors. 

The HLA factor

The compatibility of patients and donors of bone marrow and blood transplants is based on Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) Matching. This is essential for the regeneration/development of healthy new cells. It also significantly lowers the risk of immune rejection.

Future of cord blood cells

Cord blood cells are immeasurably useful in the management of several blood diseases. And while there are several contentions when it comes to collecting, storing, donating, and transplanting cord blood cells, scientists believe that their full potential is yet to be revealed.

If you wish to know more about cord blood banking and cord blood donation in India, we recommend you read the Guidelines for Cord Blood Banking, compiled by the Indian Council for Medical Research, and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.


Why is cord blood so valuable?

The presence of haematopoietic blood stem cells (HSCs) in cord blood make it extremely valuable. HSCs are used to manage blood diseases and in bone marrow transplantation.

Is cord blood rich in stem cells?

Yes, cord blood is rich in stem cells. This is why it may be used for the management of genetic disorders, immune deficiencies, cancers, and several other life-threatening diseases.

Is it safe to donate cord blood?

Yes, it is absolutely safe to donate cord blood.

Is saving cord blood expensive?

Public cord blood banking is free. However, private cord blood banking can be heavy on the pocket. We recommend you speak to your gynaecologist, identify an umbilical cord blood bank, and devise a storage plan that works for you.

Is cord blood better than bone marrow?

The one advantage cord blood has over bone marrow is it reduces the risk of immune rejection.

What diseases can cord blood treat?

Cord blood cells may be used in the  management of:

  • Leukaemia (blood cancer)
  • Thalassaemia
  • Sickle cell anaemia
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Bone marrow failure
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Immune disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Genetic disorders
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